Efferfescent. Scintillating. Bauble. Exuberant. Tantalizing.
I love words almost as much as I love food (which is why writing about food is so appealing to me, I suppose). Words are fascinating – not only how they carry the power of communication, but also how we learn them, use them, study them, roll them around on our tongue, spit them out, let them slide, choose them wisely or fling them without thought. There are an estimated 1,025,109.8 words in the English language at our disposal to be used in countless ways (which is why it baffles me that the only word people seem to be able to pull out begins with an “f”). They can be mixed, stretched, flattened, spread, chopped, sprinkled, rolled, cut, squished, and formed to make what we want. Kind of like cinnamon buns. Cinnamon buns that can be described in such a way that you’re going to want to make them immediately (and will be able to, as they take less than an hour from start to finish). Rich, decadent cinnamon buns oozing with a deep, dark caramel filling, a smattering of crunchy pecans, and a drizzle of vanilla glaze.
Wheaties may be the breakfast of champions, but if I can start my day with a cinnamon roll, a mug of good steaming coffee, and a few minutes of reading a good book or magazine, well, that’s a winning breakfast for me.
What are your favorite words?
Quick Cinnamon Buns with Pecans
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Quick Cinnamon Buns
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. molasses (optional)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 2-1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1-1/4 cups buttermilk (or milk)
- 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 3 Tbsp. milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9-inch nonstick round cake pan. Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Whisk 2-1/2 cups of the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk and 2 Tbsp. of the melted butter together. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until the dough forms, about 30 seconds. If dough is still too sticky, add more flour until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Press the dough into a 12 by 9-inch rectangle and brush the dough with 2 more Tbsp. melted butter. Sprinkle the filling over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge. Press on the filling to adhere it to the dough.
- Loosen the dough from the counter using a bench scraper (or metal spatula), and roll the dough into a tight log. Pinch the seam closed and roll the log seam side down. If necessary, gentily reshape the log to be 12 inches in length with an even diameter. Pat the ends of the cylinder to even them.
- Slice the cylinder into 8 evenly sized rolls (about 1-1/2 inches wide) with a serrated knife. Arrange the rolls, cut side up, in the prepared baking pan, and brush with the remaining melted butter. Bake the rolls until the edges are golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
- Flip the rolls out onto a wire rack set over a sheet of parchment paper (for easy cleanup) and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, softened cream cheese, milk, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth (add more sugar if too thin). Flip the rolls upright, drizzle with the glaze, and serve.
My garden is in full-on tomato production mode, and I love it. I’m hoping to process a pile of these red orbs into a few glistening jars of summer to use in the dead of winter (and I’m pretending that the process is not going to be as messy and tedious as it really is), but I’m also completely enjoying having a stash of fresh tomatoes at my disposal for cooking.
I love BLTs and club sandwiches. And bagels with cream cheese and a slice of fresh tomato. And grilled cheese with tomato. And tuna melts with tomato.
It all sounds good, but I was trying to keep my meal plan from looking like the menu from a sandwich shop, especially for the sake of my husband who, as a non-lover of fresh tomatoes, tolerates my tomato growing habit. So, with BLTs on the brain, an afternoon with lower temps, a tolerable level of humidity that would make turning on the oven bearable, and a good dose of culinary inspiration, I set out to make BLT lasagna.
And then I discovered I had a grand total of 6 lasagna noodles. Awesome. Time to implement Plan B, which required boiling water, but I was not about to be deterred. So, with a stash of freshly-cooked jumbo pasta shells, I set out to make an ode to the sandwich: BLT-ish stuffed shells. (The “-ish” comes from the fact that you really don’t want to bake lettuce; I used spinach instead.) I opted to use the bulk of tomatoes in the bottom of the dish as a sauce of sorts, mixed with a couple glugs of olive oil, a smattering of garlic, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
The shells themselves are stuffed with a cream cheese and mayo-based filling laced with bacon, garlic, cheese, a bit of tomato, and spinach. (And in case you’re wondering, if you ever accidentally freeze a package of cream cheese because it was sandwiched between bags of shredded cheese in the plastic grocery bag you tossed into the chest freezer when you got home from shopping, this is a perfect place to use it.) The whole dish is then topped with one more chopped tomato to aid in keeping the shells moist and sealed in with a good dose of cheese and a generous coating of toasted panko bread crumbs.
My eight-year-old ate three helpings.
BLT-ish Stuffed Pasta Shells
- 20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked until almost tender
- 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 lb. bacon, chopped (feel free to use up to a pound)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- One 8-oz. brick cream cheese
- 1/2 cup mayo with olive oil
- 3 cups fresh spinach, torn
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese or combination of two
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the 5 chopped tomatoes in bottom of 9×13″ baking dish, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Cook bacon in large microwavable bowl on high for 3 minutes or until browned but not crisp. (Do not drain.) Add onion, garlic, and cream cheese; microwave on high one more minute. Stir in mayo, spinach, eggs, cheese, and diced tomato. Carefully spoon filling into pasta shells, starting with about 2 Tbsp. filling per shell; set over tomatoes in baking dish.
- Spoon remaining diced tomato evenly over shells. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil and bread crumbs. Remove baking dish from oven after 30 minutes, uncover, and spread bread crumbs over shells. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return to oven and bake, uncovered, an additional 15 minutes or until hot and beginning to bubble. Let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.